Horse Show: Beating The Nerves
In Queensland, it is quite common to attend organised events, these being agricultural shows, pony club or clinics etc. Leaving with your collection of ribbons with that feeling of satisfaction. However, competing can be stressful, especially if you are unprepared. If you are heading out every weekend, you will eventually establish a routine for preparation, floating and competing. Your horse will get used to travelling and working in new environments. Routine and repetition has been proved to reduce the stress on you and your horse. If you aren’t regularly out and about, you can still do some show prep at home.
It’s a good idea to familiarize your horse at home to things which they may encounter when they are out. If the show environment seems familiar with the home environment, your horse will be much more relaxed. If your horse has never heard a loudspeaker before, you could try to borrow something which could simulate noises which are similar to what could be heard out in the ring. You could set up some flags, judging stand and more to make it look as similar to what you are most likely to experience when you are competing. It’s also important to set up grooming and tacking up routines at home, which will help keep your horse relaxed in an unknown environment.
Try to arrive the day before the show so that you can get your horse familiar with his surroundings. Travelling can be exhausting and in some cases stressful for the inexperienced traveller. Arriving a day early will allow some time to rest and will give you both time to have a look around, either by leading or riding. Let your horse have a look at the stands, the arena and ask him to stand quietly and allow him to get used to the new smells and noises. When it’s your turn to compete, all these scary things will no longer be new to him.
Paying attention to your horse at home so when you are out you understand his mood and attention level at the showgrounds. Figure out a plan on what you can do to keep your horse’s attention on you instead of on another horse or object.
Some people may believe that wearing your horse out hours before classes will result in a calmer horse, when it may result in lower performance because he is too tired. A solution is to learn to ride the horse forward in your hand so that there is a better connection. If there is no connection it is hard to use aids to create a rhythm and to have the horse relax. By keeping your horse on your aids you can bring his attention to his task rather than on a loose horse or the loudspeaker blaring, Ensuring that your horse’s attention is on his task ensures that his excitement levels are down, and that energy goes into the class instead of focusing on what's going on around him.
Create a Checklist
Everyone knows that anxious riders make anxious horses. Ensuring you have a routine will keep you calm and your horse. Create a checklist that both you and your horse will need. This may include:
- Vet certificates;
- Registration papers;
- Membership cards;
- Entry forms;
- Rule books;
- Horse feed;
- First aid supplies;
- Buckets and grooming tools etc;
- Show Clothes;
- Water and food.
You can ask those who show regularly what they will not leave without and add it to you list. This will make packing so much easier.
Relax and Focus
It’s important to relax and focus. You should practice ignoring everything that's going on and focus on the task. Practice makes perfect, so practicing patterns can ensure that you and your horse are familiar with the pattern. If you know your pattern so well that you can do it backwards then you won’t have to stress about remembering when it’s time. Staying relaxed is important and you should know what you need to do to say relaxed. This may be having some alone time or someone giving you a pep talk. You may want to write down the pattern and practice in your head before your class.
Identify Goals and Reasons
You can look at horse shows or pony club events etc; as a game to play, and there are reasons to play. Reasons may be to record your progress as a rider or you may be teaching a young horse. Meeting new people and making horsey friends may be a main reason as to why you go out. It might even be for personal glory or to grow yourself some professional credentials. Stud Farms may show horses to sell or attract potential clients. You need to ensure you have personal goals and be aware of others. By maintaining a clear and healthy perspective on competing will help beat your nerves.
You might not always come home with a ribbon or a trophy but it's crucial to understand that it’s just a game and it’s important to always have fun. Some classes may have objective markers for placings or most are based on descriptions. We must all remember that judges are people too and they judge based on their opinion on the day. The best place to be is on the back of your horse so don’t let anyone spoil your enjoyment of riding!